Spaghetti Vongole

Spaghetti VongoleThis is an Italian classic and like many classic recipes, it relies on a simple combination that allows each of the ingredients to shine. Here, the vongole is combined with the holy trinity of olive oil, parsley and garlic.

Vongole is the Italian word for clam but there are various species of similar shelled molluscs that include cockles, periwinkles and pipis.

Clams feature in dishes throughout the world, famously in America where they come in a the form of clam chowder or clam bakes (yes, there really is such a thing, it is not just the title of an Elvis movie) and by the Chinese who served them with XO sauce. In Spain, they are mad for tinned razor clams, which are an elongated variety and you will find fresh clams (Almejas) peeking out of Paella, or served any number of ways including stewed with chorizo and tomato.

Locally, Pipis have been eaten throughout the millenia by the indigenous Australians as evidenced by the remains found in shell middens (which are places where shell debris was collected over time).  Bennalong Point, the site of the Sydney Opera House, was in fact originally used as a shell midden.

One of the fun things to do at the beach is to find your own clams, by digging and twisting your feet into the sand at the shoreline when the water rushes back out to sea – or do what I did … and buy them already cleaned of sandy grit and vacuumed packed from the supermarket!!!

Vongole packet

Make sure you use dried pasta, not fresh as fresh is too delicate for this recipe. It goes without saying if you are following a gluten-free diet to use gluten-free pasta, I used San Remo.  Like with mussels, discard any vongole that doesn’t open.

Please note: that this recipe is NOT paleo, low carb or low fat!

INGREDIENTS

250g dried (not fresh) spaghetti or linguine
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½-1 long red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds if you can’t handle the heat)
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1kg Vongole, vacuumed packed
2 tblspn extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio
1/3 cup vongole juice, reserved from the vacuum pack
1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking water
sea salt
a knob of butter (20g) or another slosh of olive oil
chopped parsley to serve

METHOD

1. Firstly, put the water on for the pasta in a large pot. Meanwhile, as the water is heating, prep all the ingredients – including opening the seal of the vongole pack and draining out the juice.  Keep the vongole inside the pack until ready to put then in the pan.

2. Once the water is boiling, season the water well with table salt and once it returns to the boil, place the pasta in.

3. Once the pasta is in, heat olive oil into a large wide frypan with high sides or a casserole style saucepan.  Add the garlic, chilli and parsley and stir until aromatic – about 30 secs and then add the wine.  Let it all bubble away for one minute to burn off the alcohol in the wine, then add the reserved vongole juice and cook for another minute.

vongole cooking

4. Tip the vongole into the pan. Swirl the pan gently so as distribute the garlic sauce over and around the vongole. As they open, lightly sprinkle over some sea salt flakes and break up the knob of butter and scatter throughout the pan. Cover with lid and cook for a few minutes. Alternatively, you could use olive oil instead of butter, but I prefer the addition of butter.

5. Once pasta is just cooked to al-dente, strain, reserving 1/3 cup of the pasta water to add to the vongole.  Tip the drained pasta over the vongole, add reserved pasta water and shake the pan (or stir) so that everything meshes together and the sauce emulsifies. Cook for another minute with lid on. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed.

6. Serve immediately and sprinkle with a little extra parsley.

Serves 2.  

Please note, I’ve been very generous with the sauce and the quantity of vongole, so if you would like to make this to serve 4, you can increase the pasta to 350g-500g, but keep the rest of the ingredients the same. You may need to add a little extra pasta cooking liquid or olive oil if it seems too dry.

 

 

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Mexican Salad

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It can be said that a recipe creates a synergy where the sum is much greater than the parts! Crispy chorizo, the sweet corn, the creamy avocado, the juicy tomato, the freshness from the coriander, the softness of the beans, the crunch from the onion and the spiciness from the chilli – I think the combination of ingredients in this dish creates a wonderful alchemy.

It is a perfect dish for a light dinner or substantial lunch.  A serving of corn chips or warmed tortilla makes an excellent accompaniment.

INGREDIENTS

2 corn cobs
2 gluten-free chorizo sausages, thinly sliced
1 avocado, chopped into chunky pieces
200g vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ small red onion, sliced
400g can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tsp finely chopped pickled jalepeno chillis
1 tblspn finely chopped coriander leaves
2 tblspn olive oil
2-3 tsp sherry vinegar
sour cream (to serve)

METHOD

1. Cook the corn for about 8-10mins until tender.  Meanwhile, fry the chorizo in a small pan until cooked and the edges are crispy and caramelised.

2. Cut the cooked corn kernels off from the cob and place into a bowl, along with the beans, onion, avocado and tomato and a sprinkle of sea salt flakes.

3. Put the olive oil and vinegar into a small jar and shake to mix and stir through the salad.

4. Add the cooked chorizo and coriander to the bowl. Toss through and taste for seasoning.

5. Serve with sour cream and corn chips (or tortillas) on the side.

Serves 2-3 people

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Santorini Fava

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Fava is a much loved Greek dip, made from yellow split peas (lentils) but is not to be confused with dried broad beans, which is known as fava in other parts of the world. Fava is usually served with other dishes as part of a meal but can also be served as mezethes, which are small plates designed to have with drinks like ouzo or raki – in a similar fashion to Spanish tapas.

‘Protected designation of origin’ status has been provided to the Greek fava grown on the spectacular island of Santorini.  It has been grown there for over 3,500 years in the volcanic soil and has properties that make it a totally unique product with an distinctive flavour and texture.

For a product to have PDO status awarded, it must be have unique qualities and be traditionally and totally produced within the specific region.  Some other examples of Greek PDO products include Kalamata olives and mastic from Chios.

Interestingly, researching this, I discovered that feta cheese also has PDO status, and that it must be made of a combination of sheep and goats milk, and be made in Greece to be called feta. Hello Denmark, Australia and Bulgaria, you might like to take note. Clearly no-one is policing this one!  There currently isn’t a PDO on Greek yogurt – I wish there was, it should be illegal to call that awful stuff made elsewhere “Greek yogurt”.

Santorini fava differs from normal yellow split peas in the following ways:

  • Firstly doesn’t need to be soaked overnight.
  • Secondly cooks quicker (around 30mins vs 60mins).
  • Thirdly upon cooking, breaks down completely, so doesn’t need to be blended.
  • Lastly, cost is much more expensive than normal fava (6 Euro vs 1.50 Euro) for 250g.

If the Santorini fava you buy doesn’t comply with these points, then I’m afraid it isn’t Santorini fava.  It should also have a PDO stamp on the packaging.

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If you aren’t in Greece, you will probably have zero chance of getting your hands on Santorini Fava, so you can easily make this with normal yellow split peas. Either way, it will taste great, as normal split peas is what most Greeks use anyway. Just make sure you soak overnight and you will need to remove the onion and blend it.

The Santorini fava recipe below is straight off the packet and can be found online here.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup fava (yellow split peas)
4 cups water
1 peeled onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Topping

1 shallot, finely diced
1 tblspn extra virgin olive oil
1 tlbspn red wine vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme

METHOD

If using normal split peas, wash and soak overnight in cold water.

1. Wash and rinse the fava, place in a saucepan with cold water. Drop in the peeled whole onion, add salt and pepper.

2. Bring the boil and cook for around 30 mins (for Santorini fava) or 45-60mins (for normal yellow split peas).  During cooking continually skim off the white foam with a spoon and remove.

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3. While the fava is cooking make the topping and set aside for the flavours to blend.

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4. Once the Santorini fava is cooked it will break down become creamy and smooth.  The normal fava will look soften and start to break down but still be lumpy and look like porridge.  You may need to add more water during cooking for the normal kind of fava.

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5. When cooked remove the onion and allow the fava to cool slightly.  The normal fava will need to be blended with a stick blender so that it is smooth.  The Santorini fava will be perfect as is.

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6. Serve on a plate and spoon the topping over just before serving.

Best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a side dish, or 6 or more as a dip.

 

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Living the dream …

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KB Greece 2009 216

Soul Kitchen Blog is currently having an extended holiday in the Greek islands – living a dream in an idyllic fishing village and enjoying every minute of Greek summer blue skies and turquoise water. Picture postcard perfect, it is not just spectacular scenery that makes any trip to Greece so special – it is also the experience of the generous Greek hospitality, which includes (of course) the incredible food.

What has stuck me most about the fantastic food we are eating here, is how fresh it is and how simple the cooking is. With only a light seasoning, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice – the produce shines.

I contemplate how a Greek salad made by me in Greece, tastes so much better than a Greek salad made by me in Sydney.  Even though my method and ingredients are the same, the difference is significant and can only come down to one thing – the quality and freshness of the produce.

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It doesn’t matter how much I pay for tomatoes (for example) in Sydney, I reckon they just taste average.  Here they are fleshy and red, bursting with full tomato flavour.

Is it the soil? is it the climate? is because it is seasonal produce ripened on the plant?  I’d hazard a guess and say it is most likely a combination of the three, but if you have ever grown stuff in your own backyard you will know that enabling something to fully ripen on the plant before picking definitely has flavour benefits.

Additionally, we probably don’t need to be nutritionists to work out something that is grown and picked just before eating is going to have a better nutritional value than something grown hundreds of kilometres away, picked and transported before finally arriving to wholesalers, then our shops and eventually our plate.

In Greece – outside of the big cities, you grow what you can and you swap produce with your family or neighbour, or buy from local producers, eating only fruit and vegetables that are in season.

In Kos (where I am writing this from) we have been buying our fruit and vegies from roadside stalls, but at a pinch we have bought from the main supermarket that supplies the village but they also buy produce from local farmers where they can.

Every time we visit any of my partner’s family here, we come home with a bag of something wonderful.  It may be the sweetest tasting organic melons (rock, honeydew or watermelon), vine ripened juicy red tomatoes, incredibly jammy figs picked straight from the tree or gorgeous free range eggs.  We were especially lucky to be given homemade goat cheese made by partner’s Aunty, wow.

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Even more impressively … I’ve asked many people here in Kos what brand of olive oil they buy and they laugh.  They don’t buy olive oil, they get their oil from the harvest of the family olive grove! Every year there is a new batch. I don’t need to tell you how amazing the olive oil is here, you can probably guess …

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Stamatis’ Kakavia (Greek Fisherman’s Soup)

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For a country that has large percentage of it’s 11M population living on islands or near the coast, it stands to reason that this is a nation that has an integral relationship with the sea.

The sea is a part of Greek DNA! The salt water runs through their veins.

For those that have left to live in other countries, they have mostly settled near the sea. In Sydney for example – suburbs like San Souci, Brighton-Le-Sands, Coogee and Maroubra have a strong Greek community within it’s shores. Even Socrates was noted as saying “We Greeks live around the sea like frogs around a pond”.

Most Greek children living close to the sea learn early to swim in the ocean and they are taught to fish at a young age. A fishing line is a common item in most homes.

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Our friend Stamatis, who grew up on the island of Kos, is a butcher by trade, but in his heart, he is a fisherman. He came by boat to visit us, rather than by road, Onassis like in his arrival and stayed for a few days entertaining us with his daily fishing escapades and stories. We asked him one afternoon how he knew the difference between all the varieties of fish and he said to us with a straight face and emphatically, “the first rule of fishing is to know the difference between a dolphin and a shark”.

One day, after an early morning expedition on his boat, Stamatis returned with a bucket of fish and a grin from ear to ear – excited about his catch so that he could prepare our evening meal of Kakavia – Fisherman’s soup.

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Kakavia is a soup born from the Ancient Greek fisherman, and is similar in tradition to the French Bouillabaisse – in fact it was probably the Greeks that brought it to the French when they settled in Marseilles in 600BC. Kakavia, uses the smallest fish from the day’s catch and simple ingredients that the fisherman could take with them when they were out to sea (like olive oil and onions). The fisherman would have cooked with seawater.

Because it uses small fish, the fish are removed after cooking and eaten separately, so there is no chance of swallowing the small bones. You will need to be careful when removing from the soup so that the fish don’t break up. It doesn’t matter what kind of fish you use, just make sure it is super fresh. There should be no fishy smell, just the smell of the sea.

Stamatis’ Kakavia has a basis of the iconic Greek soup – Avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup, which can also be made with chicken. We ate the soup sitting by the Aegean sea with a group of friends and a glass of Greek wine.

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It was a perfect meal. Simply delicious.

INGREDIENTS

1 kg small fish
1-2 dessertspoons salt

4 litres water
2 small red onions, sliced
Celery leaves from the top of a celery plant
1/4 cup olive oil
2 carrots, chopped in rounds
2 potatoes, chopped in pieces lengthwise
2 zucchini, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped in chunks
3/4 cup medium grain rice
2-3 lemons (1/2 cup of juice)
2 eggs

METHOD

1. Clean the fish, or ask your fishmonger to do this. Sprinkle the fish with salt and leave for an hour before you start cooking the soup.

2. Place onion, celery leaves, oil and water in a large pan and simmer for around 15 mins until the onion has softened.

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3. Add the rest of the vegetables/tomato and cook for a further 20mins until the onion is translucent, or in Stamatis’ words, like jelly.

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4. Add the fish and salty fish juice and cook for for 5-10mins. Until the fish is cooked but not before it breaks up. Carefully remove the fish and place on a platter, along with approximately a quarter of the cooked vegetables and a ladle of a little of the soup stock to keep the fish moistened.

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5. Remove rest of the vegetables in from the soup and blend them to a puree and return puree to the soup liquid.

6. Add the rice and cook for 8-10mins and then turn off the heat. At this point you want to rice to be almost cooked but not fully.  It will continue to cook whilst the heat is turned off.  You need to cool the soup slightly before the egg and lemon mix goes in or else you will have a soup full of scrambled eggs!

8.  After about 10mins of cooling the soup down, commence beating the eggs in a separate bowl with a whisk.  Slowly add 1 dessertspoon of lemon to the eggs – whisking well after each addition.  Continue the process until all the lemon juice has been added.

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9. Take a ladle spoon of soup and add to the egg/lemon mix in the bowl and whisk quickly. Add another ladle and whisk.  Add one more ladle and whisk. By now the egg should be emulsified in your bowl enough to be able to fully add the mix to the soup in the pan.  Once added, stir continually for a few mins to fully incorporate. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.

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10. Serve the warm soup and the platter of fish to the side.  Stamatis says “first you eat the soup and then you eat the fish”.

11. Serve with a Greek salad and … and if you aren’t gluten intolerant (like me) you might like to dip some crusty bread into the remaining juices on the fish platter … I hear it tastes great.

Serves 8-10

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My Daily Bean – Lavazza Cafe, Galata, Istanbul

A few days stopover in Istanbul on route to Greece. It has been almost 20 years ago since I was last here and the city has progressed to a thriving cosmopolitan city.

The Turks love their black tea and drink in the bucket loads, all day long, all from a tiny glass. Coffee is relatively expensive in comparison and although Turkish coffee is renowned throughout the world and requires a level of skill to make, we haven’t found any evidence of them mastering a cappuccino here. They have all been very lack lustre attempts.

At the Lavazza cafe, situated across from the 15th century Galata Tower, where they boast they have the best coffee in the city – we were served a cup of milky froth. Oh well … thankfully we have a Nespresso in our room!

Coffee – 1/5
Free wifi – yes
Gluten-free options – what is that!?
Ambiance – 4/5
Cappuccino cost – 7 TL

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GF Precinct Update

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A recent visit to Melbourne meant bringing back to Sydney a haul of GF Precinct products. As I have blogged about previously, this bakery is making brilliant gluten-free bread that (in my opinion) is a cut above all the rest.

As I’ve said before, amazingly, GF Precinct bread can be eaten without toasting and keeps very well without freezing. Of course it also freezes really well – which is helpful given I brought back so many loaves!

Previously, I had always stayed true to my first love – the buckwheat & chia bread, however this trip, I have broadened my horizons.

For white gluten-free bread, the house white loaf was pretty darn good and toasted up a treat. Look at all these lovely air holes! Being high GI, this loaf needs to be eaten in moderation if watching your carb intake.

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House White

The quinoa & soy (also contains linseed) was equally as good as the buckwheat & chia. Makes great BLT sandwiches.

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Quinoa and Soya

The fruit loaf was nice, although I prefer the other varieties, it was nice for change of pace and served toasted with a good slather of high quality butter.

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Fruit Loaf

Besides the varieties of bread, I also tried the wraps – which were unusual in texture and quite moist – unlike the pieces of cardboard normally passed off as gluten-free wraps.

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My favourite new item is the pizza base! WINNER! These made excellent pizzas and have to be the best commercial made pizza base I’ve tried, and whilst thin in style, we couldn’t tell they were gluten-free :-)

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Oh and since I last blogged about them, GF Precinct now has a website, not just a Facebook page – yay!

Links as follows:

Facebook

Website

 

 

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